Employability, Education Abroad & False Choices

According to data collected from the International Institute of Education (IIE), only 274,000 students out of more than 20 million enrolled in post-secondary education studied abroad in 2010-11.  Read that statistic again.  I decided to take a step back to consider whom we are talking about when discussing the topics/themes of my blog.  These numbers tell us something  not too often talked about in all the current writing about the mission of the university and whether we “taint” that mission when we talk about issues of employability, rates of employment upon graduation, match of major to prospects for employment, and skills which employers value when hiring.

When these issues are framed solely around the tiny percent of U.S. undergrads who study abroad, we are, in fact, really talking about and expressing concern for the impact of international education upon a small class of American undergrads — and they happen to be mostly white, female and shall we say, of a certain socio-economic background.  There is no disputing this fact.  Further, when looking at the IIE stats, you see that the breakdown of numbers also shows how few institutions are represented as being major players in the arena of international education :  there is a “Top 25” list of sending institutions;  and a “Top 40” list of Phd, MA and undergraduate institutions –and these few are a small percent of the 4,100 institutions of higher ed in America.

I came to think about these numbers because of  a new piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education,http://chronicle.com/article/Employers-Want-Broadly/138453/?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en ,  ” Employers Want Broadly Educated New Hires, Survey Finds.”  Who are these employers and who is interested in the advocacy of the broad liberal arts education they seek in their hires?  The  Association of American Colleges  and Universities reported on a survey of 318 employers, however  only 160 of this group signed on – along with 107 college presidents – to a new “compact” to help the country better understand the importance of a ’21st-century liberal-arts education.’  Among those things they will advocate for is “college as a path to both career success and civic responsibility.”  I think it is fair to say that these same presidents would support international education as a part of their students’ liberal arts education.

But again think about these numbers.  What is the student community whom they represent in our society?  Who is framing a broader compact and advocating for the majority of students attending college and university in the U.S.?  In other posts, I’ve raised the issue of equality of access to international education.  I remain very concerned about this issue.  It’s not enough to advocate raising the number of students who participate in study abroad, and not even enough to advocate for greater diversity within this cohort of students.  We need to advocate “international education for ALL.”   We need a conversation about the democratization of the international education agenda on our campuses.

 

 

 

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